Many people think that having a big budget ensures the ability to enjoy great travel. They are wrong.
Even if you have the discretionary pocketbook to do whatever you want, you have to actually know what it is you want to do – and how to do it best. More importantly, even with lots of cash, time still remains the most valuable commodity – it is a finite resource and the clock never stops ticking. Anytime you take a trip and don’t make the most of it, you’ve wasted an opportunity and used up some of your most precious resource
Having covered luxury travel worldwide for a about 25 years for top magazines and newspapers around the globe, I’ve had the chance to meet many different kinds of well to do travelers, and I also get tons of questions from those planning trips. Whether it is for business or leisure, active or passive, cultural or relaxing, I hear the same quandaries over and over and see the same mistakes being made too often. So to help more travelers avoid the pitfalls, I’ve made this quick checklist of the five most common mistakes when it comes to luxury travel.
Not Using a Travel Agent: This is a topic I have covered here at Forbes at length, and you can read one of my longer features for more detail. But to put it simply, there is no excuse not to use a good agent. Much more often than not it ends up costing you less for the same thing, or the same amount for more. But beyond the value proposition you get actual expertise in helping you pick where to go, where to stay, what guides to use, all those things. On top of that, good agents can often get you better flight routings and prices than you can get on your own, they are an immediate remedy when things go wrong (cancelled flights), while the good ones get you room upgrades, cabin upgrades on cruises, late checkouts, all sorts of extras. From rooms at otherwise “sold out” hotels to VIP red carpet access to audiences with the Pope, there are few limits to what the best travel advisors – these days they prefer that term – can do for you.
Misusing Miles: Today, thanks to credit cards and other non-aviation sources, from mortgages to television providers, well-heeled travelers typically have more miles accrued than ever, even if they are not frequent fliers. I hear endless complaints about the difficulty in using miles, but I have found that is not the case at all – at least if you go through a mileage and ticketing expert. I covered this topic last year and explained how by using a company called SmartFlyer, I was able to fly to Tokyo and back in Business one way and First the other for $1500 and about 100,000 United miles. This was less than a third of the miles for the best deal I could get through United’s site, and I ended up getting more than three times the dollars per mile that most experts value frequent flier miles at. You can literally save thousands of dollars per trip by having someone who knows what they are doing leverage your miles for premium class upgrades, and unlike purely free award tickets, you still earn miles for the trip (and qualifying dollars towards elite status). But even if you just want to splurge for straight up free first class, these specialists can often get the tickets for far fewer miles or on better airlines that you would have little chance of finding on your own. It rarely makes sense to cash in your miles for simple domestic coach ticket, but it makes a lot of sense to use them to turn a cheap ticket into a very expensive one you would have paid for anyway – use the extra cash to splurge on a deluxe hotel. SmartFlyer is the creme de la creme of this field, but there are other options (upgrd.com, iflywithmiles.com, and bookyouraward.com).
Choosing Trends Over Timeless: Some people love to be the first on their block to jump on a trend bandwagon, but in many cases when it comes to travel, the flavor of the day doesn’t make much sense. A few years back all the major travel magazines made a big deal out of covering Dubai and its raft of bogus self-proclaimed “6-Star hotels,” its offshoots of the same celebrity chef eateries found around the globe, and its mirror images of Vegas casino shopping boutiques. There are few places I would be less interested in going on vacation, but the full court press by the press worked, and I had friends asking me over and over if they should go to Dubai. “For what?” I’d counter, and they had no reasons, other than having read about it. This cycle plays out on an almost yearly basis. Cuba is an interesting place (I’ve been) with great weather and beautiful beaches, but this hardly sets its apart from dozens of other Caribbean and Latin American destinations. What does set it apart and the main reason it is hot now is simply because it has been forbidden, and we find stuff that is off limits tempting, but is that really a good reason? I’m guessing for most people chomping to go, there are lots of other places in the region that have not been forbidden that they haven’t bothered visiting. The other current rage is Iceland, for reasons I really can’t fathom – and for reasons my friends who are suddenly hotly interested cannot explain themselves, other than “I’ve been reading a lot about it.” There’s nothing wrong with Iceland, I’ve been three times, it’s very close, and it’s got natural beauty and friendly people (along with so-so lodging, average food, and a below average airline). But the reason travel magazines are all covering it is because they have to put out covers month after month, year after year, and keep looking for something new, while most travelers don’t take big vacations month after month for decades. So don’t be so quick to toss aside proven wonderful vacation destinations for Johnny come lately hotspots – I’d rather go to Tuscany for the umpteenth time than Dubai once. This is obviously subjective and you might love Dubai but have no interest in Tuscany. That’s fine, if you can’t think of a compelling reason you want to experience Tuscany you shouldn’t go. I’m not saying there aren’t lesser known vacation spots well worth considering, or that there are not good reasons to want to visit Cuba or Iceland, but do you have one? If so, go, and enjoy. I’m saying that wherever you choose should pass a simple smell test: ask yourself “For what?” reason are you going, and if you don’t have a concrete answer you might want to reevaluate. Among places I have not been, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Morocco are all high on my list, and these are not for everyone, but I have my reasons.
5 Big Luxury Travel Mistakes You Might Be Making – Forbes